Northwest College sophomore Shelby Wardell met her longtime friend and teammate Mikkel McIntosh on the basketball court, playing together on a 3-on-3 all-star team.
Even then, McIntosh showed signs of the scrappy point guard she would eventually become.
“I remember thinking I was lucky to have her on my team with the way she pushed the ball and played defense,” Wardell recalled. “Ever since then, we’ve just been playing together, and I’m happy that I have the opportunity to play with her again.”
Teammates from elementary school all the way through starring on the court for the Lovell High School Lady Bulldogs, the pair have reunited once again, donning Trapper red; Wardell started at NWC this fall.
“We grew up with the same coaching. We understand things the same way,” Wardell said. “It’s easy for our chemistry to bind, just because we have played together so much.”
Both Wardell and McIntosh were recruited by former NWC head coach (and fellow Lovell native) Janis Beal, and shared a lifelong dream of one day suiting up for the Lady Trappers. Now in her second season at NWC, Wardell said she gave her friend the hard sell about where she should go for her freshman year following Beal’s departure at the end of last season.
“I did want her [McIntosh] to come play here,” Wardell said. “Her ball handling is incredible, the way she brings the ball up the court. But when we need someone to just go in there and get the ball up the court, I feel confident with her going in and getting the job done for us.”
For McIntosh, joining the Lady Trappers it meant one more season with an old friend.
“We were always pretty good together [growing up],” she said. “I was a playing guard, she was a shooting guard. I knew to give Shelby [Wardell] the ball — I could trust her with the ball, and she could trust me to get it to her. It was a Dynamic Duo kind of thing.”
First-year head coach Camden Levett said having a Lovell player or two on the Lady Trappers’ roster has become a tradition in recent years, and he’s grateful to have inherited a pair for his first season.
“Looking back on teams in the past, there’s always been a Lovell kid that makes it,” he said. “I’m excited to have Shelby returning for her sophomore year, and Mikkel as a freshman. Not only are they a big part of the team, but they’re contributing, playing minutes.”
Wardell averaged 7.5 minutes and 3.5 points per game last season, highlighted by a 35-point performance against Little Big Horn College in which she hit nine 3-pointers. She’s seen her minutes increase to 14.5 a game this season, averaging 4.5 points and shooting an impressive 40 percent from behind the arc.
“I expect her [Wardell] to play a bigger role in the second half of our season,” Levett said. “And one thing about Shelby [Wardell] is she always shoots the ball well. She’s a shooter, and when she checks into the game and they know she’s out there, they’re going to try and get her some looks.”
McIntosh said having a familiar face around in Wardell has made an already enjoyable experience even better.
“It makes it a lot easier, that’s for sure,” McIntosh said. “I do have her [Wardell] to turn to when I have a problem. Playing with her in the past, she’s known my strengths, and I’ve known hers. We know each other’s weaknesses, and that helps us help each other out. It’s good to know she’ll always be there.”
The fact that Wardell is shooting lights-out from behind the arc is also a plus.
“Shelby [Wardell] definitely has that 3-point shot,” McIntosh said. “She plays really well under pressure, so when we’re playing catch-up, she’s the one to give the ball to. She hasn’t disappointed this season.”
McIntosh is averaging 11.7 minutes per game this season as a backup point guard, and Levett said she plays bigger than her stature through her aggressive style of play.
“What I like about her [McIntosh] is she’s the smallest kid on the team, but she’s fearless,” Levett said. “She’s got that bulldog in her. She’s a tough kid.”
“I think Mikkel [McIntosh] fits in really well with the dynamic we’re putting together on the team,” Wardell said. “She brings a lot of energy to the team, and a lot of time, that’s what we’re looking for. She can step right up and do that.”
McIntosh can also distribute the ball, which plays to Wardell’s strengths.
“I do not like handling the ball,” Wardell said, laughing. “I would rather have it in her [McIntosh’s] hands, bringing it up the court, so she can pass it to me and I can shoot,”
With just four players back from a squad that finished 25-8 last season, Levett knew this team would have some growing pains. He looked to his sophomores to help provide leadership and ease the transition for the incoming freshmen. In Wardell, he’s found a player who speaks softly, but leads by example.
“Shelby [Wardell]’s a quiet kid, but when she speaks up in front of the team, everybody kind of listens,” Levett said. “She’s one of the few returners, she knows what the experience is like — the grind of a long college basketball season. The leadership has been there for her teammates.”
As is often the case with a young team, the Lady Trappers are off to a slow start, posting a 2-12 record for the 2018 portion of the season. The team has continued to improve with each game, however, and Wardell expects the second half of the season to be a lot more competitive.
“I think our chemistry is starting to click more and more — the more we play with each other, the more we learn what each other likes to do,” Wardell said. “We’re going to work until we’re where we want to be, and keep pushing after that. We have the athletes — I just don’t think our chemistry is quite there yet. But that’s something we can fix, so that’s nice.”
“I think we’re going to be a whole new team,” she said. “I feel like we’re going to come out and work twice as hard as we did before break. It’s going to be like we didn’t even have that slump.”
As her final semester as a Lady Trapper begins, Wardell said the experience has been one she will never forget.
“Every time I lace up my shoes, I’m thankful that I get the opportunity to play for the Trappers and be a part of that,” Wardell said. “And every time I step on that court, I don’t want to take it for granted. I always try my best.”
For McIntosh, whose Trapper career is just beginning, this season will be a success regardless of the team’s final record.
“It’s definitely not how I wish it would be,” said McIntosh of the team’s start. “But the experience has lived up to my expectations. The relationships I’ve gained through the team and with the coach, it’s everything I had wished it would be.”
And how does she feel about playing her sophomore season?
“I do plan on continuing as a Lady Trapper,” McIntosh said. “I don’t want to be done with basketball just yet.”